Claim the privilege of hunting according to the dictates of your own conscience, and allow all hunters the same privilege;
let them practice how, where, or what they may.








Sunday, July 19, 2009

Hunting Merriam's Turkeys: Hints and How-to's

© 2009 Albert A Rasch and
The Rasch Outdoor Chronicles

Grand Slam Tips: The Merriam's Turkey
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For those pursuing any of the National Wild Turkey Federation Slams, finding a great spot to hunt the Merriam's turkey can be a challenge. As we have discussed before, the reintroduction of wild turkeys in Nebraska began in 1959. 28 Merriam's turkeys trapped in South Dakota and Wyoming were released in the Pine Ridge area of Nebraska. Although Merriam's were not native to Nebraska, Pine Ridge was to their liking and in just four nesting seasons, the Merriam's population grew to 3,000 birds!

Further introductions of Rio Grande and Eastern turkeys increased the wild turkey population substantially. This has also had the effect of creating some interesting hybrids. The hybrids tend to be larger and brawnier than their purebred cousins, making them trophies in their own right.

For hunters in the pursuit of a trophy Merriam's turkey, the answer may be hunting the Pine Ridge area of Northwest Nebraska. Located between the Niobrara and White Rivers, the Pine Ridge is a high table top escarpment range where the turkeys are numerous, and the terrain is a challenge.

An escarpment is a natural geological uplift along a fault line or series of fault lines. It is characterized by steep elevations, cliffs, and canyons. It is also accented by the different erosion rates of the assorted geological strata which help in creating ridges and buttes. The Pine Ridge is well forested and in conjunction with the rugged terrain, creates a natural haven for the Merriam's turkey.

The Sandhills of Nebraska
Another premier area for Merriam's turkeys is the Sandhills region in north central Nebraska. The Sandhills region is a fascinating ecosystem that few people are aware of, and supports a thriving family of diverse plants and animals. Created by vast deposits of sand eroded from the Rockies and left there by glaciers, the Sandhills create an undulating topography, with innumerable micro wetlands and ponds between the vegetation covered dunes. It is actually the nation's largest wetland ecosystem and helps to replenish the vast Ogallala Aquifer. It is also the home to mule deer, bison, pronghorn deer, whitetail deer, and elk!

Merriam's tend to congregate through the few drainages that cut through the Sandhills. Most of that land is privately owned so it really is necessary to have an outfitter that can get you access. Turkeys look for tall trees to roost in and the river bottoms provide them. During the days they spend their time foraging throughout the rich dunes and grasslands of the Sandhills.

Clothing revolves around the Nebraska elements, and camouflage. Weather in Nebraska, especially in the spring can be, to put it politely, variable! You can get early spring storms that dump snow on one day, to near summer time temperatures the next. It is important that you dress accordingly. Check the long range weather reports before you leave, and bring appropriate gear in anticipation. Good boots for hiking are a prerequisite in the Pine Ridge area, while waterproof boots are imperative in the potholes of the Sandhills region.

Good camouflage and movement control are prerequisites for success. Turkeys have eyes practically at the top of their skulls, so they don't have to show much of their noggins to get a good look around. Touch base with your outfitter to get a handle on the proper camo pattern to wear. Good camo is an asset, but being still and quiet are more important. Turkeys have keen eyesight and will pick up unusual movements in the proverbial blink of an eye.

Calling is another challenge. The trick is to pick up the local dialect! As it turns out, turkeys have regional differences in their vocalization patterns. Your best bet is to start softly when emulating a hen, and work your way up. Remember, a tom will usually stick with the hen he has, rather than chase the one he can't see. Again, a good outfitter and guide can help you with the particulars. Scott Croner of Nebraska Hunting Company explained the differences in the different types of calls and the different ways to apply them in different hunting conditions and terrains.

Scott also explained to me the different decoy strategies that he employs in the various concessions that he manages and guides on. Hens, junior jakes, and tom decoys are all used in different fashions to entice gobblers into shooting range.

The more I learn about the different turkeys and the paraphernalia that you can get, (Of course I need another box call honey.), the more fascinated I have become by the siren call of the gobbler.

On another note, one of our blogging friends, Rick at Whitetail Woods loves his whitetails, but he is also an avid turkey hunter. He recently posted a quick article on a NWTF Grand Slam that was awarded to Jessica Haack. You can read about it at Whitetail Woods, Grand Slam of Turkey Hunting.

Best regards,
Albert

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